The Rocky Mountains are a beloved spot for hiking enthusiasts and campers alike. The scenic beauty of the thick pine forests along with its challenging topsy-turvy curves and winding mountain paths, these series of mountains will suit all experience levels. More attractive is the varied wildlife present in the area. The Rocky Mountain Range along the western part of the Northern hemisphere is home to some of the most exquisite species of wildlife present in the world. This area is popular not only for the hiking and camping experiences it provides, but also for the beautiful wildlife that can be observed spread across the expanse of the mountain range.
Camping or hiking in the Rockies will definitely fulfill your hunger for wildlife sightings. The best time to search for your favorite animal is usually around spring and summertime when animals come out to graze and so on. From dangerous animals such as the grizzly bear or the mountain lion to cute creatures like the pika or beaver, the Rockies will fascinate any wildlife lover. Avian species like the bald eagle or American dippers are native to the region and can be seen flying or perching on treetops.
Rocky Mountain Wildlife
Have you ever wondered what kind of wildlife is there in the Rockies? Or what animals are there in Colorado? If you have, you have come to the right place!
You are bound to face a number of wild animals as you hike or camp along the Rockies. Some may be dangerous, while others may simply take a look at you and walk away. You should equip yourself with the proper knowledge of these animals in order to have a safe and fun trip.
Most hikers or campers love to spot wildlife as they follow their trail. Here is a list of wildlife you can encounter as you hike the different regions that comprise the Rockies mountains, from states like Colorado to Montana, Wyoming, and others.
1. Mountain Lions
Mountain lions, also known as cougars, are commonly sighted in the Rockies, especially in Wyoming and Idaho. They are usually not dangerous and do not attack humans unless provoked. After the jaguar, mountain lions are the second-largest cat species in the Western hemisphere. A male mountain lion can stretch up to 8 feet in length and weigh between 115-220 pounds, while the female can weigh between 65-142 pounds and go up to 7 feet lengthwise.
Mountain lions are ambush predators and prefer to avoid any form of contact with humans unless it is sick or starving and hunting for food. These cats usually prey on mule deer but also feed on birds, rodents, or other larger animals such as elk.
If you come across a mountain lion, your first move should be to NOT MOVE!! Don’t ever make the mistake of turning away from the lion and running. Try and intimidate the lion by appearing to be larger than it. You can do so by lifting up your arms or your jacket over you, and then retreat slowly. If you still see the lion approaching you, then it is best to get ready for a catfight. Trying to play dead by lying on the ground may make you look like prey instead.
It is advised to always keep a knife and even a belt handy for dealing with animals such as the mountain lions. Protect your neck and the back of your head from the cat, as they like to attack those areas first. Aim for the eyes and head as you fight, try to entangle the lion using the belt, and stab it with a knife.
The grizzly bear and the black bear are among the two of the most commonly observed animals in the Rockies. You are more likely to spot a black bear than a grizzly bear since they are more plentiful. Bears are intelligent and curious animals and don’t usually attack humans unless they feel threatened. The American brown bear, commonly known as the grizzly bear, is one of the most ferocious animals you will find here. A male grizzly bear can weigh up to 1,200 pounds, while a female can weigh between 300 and 500 pounds. You can differentiate a grizzly bear from a black bear with its distinct hump on the shoulder. Grizzly bears are most commonly found around Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.
Black bears are calmer and usually mind their own business, even with humans around. They should still be regarded as dangerous predators, especially if it’s a mother bear with cubs. Mama bears are super protective of their cubs and can feel threatened instantly. The best time to see bears is between mid-May to early June or even into September, just before they go into hibernation for the winters.
While hiking or camping, look for any signs of grizzly bears, such as a scratched up tree, or fresh droppings. If you notice any, it is best to avoid that route. Bears don’t like to interact with humans, so make loud noises or sing as you move about, so that the bears won’t come your way. If you happen to encounter a grizzly bear, don’t make the mistake of running away. Start talking softly to the bear so that it knows that you are a human. Slowly try to retreat without disturbing the momentum of the environment, and don’t show your back to the bear.
While interacting with a bear, you should be equipped with bear spray and store foods in a bear canister. If the bear approaches you, spray the bear spray while it’s closer to you, and aim for the eyes. Bears are attracted to the smell of food even from 20 miles away. Use bear canisters to save your food from bears and to avoid luring them to your campsite.
There are a number of parks where you can spot both of these bears, such as Glacier National Park and Iceberg Lake Trail, both of which are the best viewing spots for bears in the U.S.
While camping or hiking the Rockies in Wyoming, you can be sure to spot this majestic yet aggressive animal. With the highest population in Wyoming, witnessing a moose is a thrilling experience, but don’t be fooled by its calm demeanor. The moose can be quite aggressive and temperamental for no good reason. Female moose, when accompanied by a calf, are not a force to be reckoned with. There is a higher number of people injured by moose each year than by wolves and bears combined.
A female moose can weigh between 450-800 pounds, while a bull moose can weigh up to 1,500 pounds. Moose prefer a solitary lifestyle and may feel threatened in the presence of humans. If you happen to encounter a moose, try to retreat slowly and not startle the moose. Some believe that you can outrun a moose, but don’t try if you are not sure of your running skills. A moose will only try to scare you away, so if it approaches you, try to slowly hide behind a tree or talk to it calmly. If a moose knocks you down, protect your head and neck first. But primarily, make sure that you don’t fall under such a situation.
The Glacier National Park and the Rocky Mountain National Park are good places to sight this majestic animal.
4. Bighorn Sheep
The bighorn sheep is the state animal of Colorado and is native to the Rockies. They are the largest wild sheep found in North America with the males (rams) weighing up to 500 pounds. These sheep are known for their curved horns, with rams having curvier horns than their female counterparts. By themselves, the horns can weigh up to 30 pounds in males. These animals are usually not disturbed by humans and will even walk along your trail without disturbing you.
Their spongy hooves allow them to climb up steep slopes and cliffs, thus allowing them to live comfortably in the uneven terrain of the Rockies. They are usually found at high elevations during summers and can be difficult to spot. They love to eat shrubs and sprouting grass during spring, and hence can be found walking on your trail route. Though they are calm animals, it is best not to interact with any wild animal very closely.
An amazing sight to see is when males “ram” their heads together. The males ram their heads at a speed of approximately 40 miles per hour to establish their dominance during the mating season. The fight, also called a rut, can last for up to 20 hours, and the sound can be heard from miles away.
It is a good idea to always be equipped with a good video camera in case you come across a rut, which is a rare sight altogether. If you’d like a recommendation, you can check out our article on The Best Hiking Cameras. The Sun River Canyon and Gibson Reservoir are home to a huge number of wintering bighorn sheep. Banff National park will also give excellent viewing of this wild animal.
5. Mountain Goats
Mountain goats are another beautiful animal found in the Rockies. They are more closely related to antelopes than to normal domestic goats. Found abundantly in the Colorado Rockies, mountain goats are friendly and are not disturbed by human presence. A male mountain goat can weigh up to 300 pounds. These goats usually live in elevations higher than 13,000 feet to stay safe from predators. Their strong hind legs and padded hooves give them the grip and strength to climb steep slopes.
The best time to spot these photogenic animals is during late spring and around summer, and if you want to see some cute sights of a nanny goat taking care of her cute kids, then early summer is a good time. Midday is the best time to spot these goats as they rest during that time.
If you wish to get a good view of mountain goats, it is advised to be equipped with good binoculars. Don’t go too close to these large animals, as the goat may feel distressed because of your presence and puts you at risk. If you’re interested, you can check out our article on the best hiking binoculars.
One of the best places to view mountain goats is at the Goat Lick, located near Glacier National park, starting from April till mid-June. Waterton Lakes National Park is also a good place to spot them.
6. Mountain Elk
The Mountain Elk is the world’s largest deer species and is a commonly sighted animal in the Rockies. The male elks can weigh up to 700 pounds, while females weigh around 500 pounds. Central Montana is a famous elk hunting site because of the high number of elk found in the area. The best time to spot an elk is during winter when these animals come down to lower elevations, or during the rutting season. Elks are most active during the mating season of winter and fall. Elks shed their antlers after the rutting season, and new antlers begin to grow the next season.
Though mountain elks are not as dangerous as the other creatures, it is better to keep a safe distance since they are wild animals. Additionally, elks can become very aggressive during the mating season, so be wary during such situations. To get the best view of a mountain elk during your hikes, carry a telephoto lens or binoculars. Doing so will not put the animal under stress or your life in danger.
Waterton National park, along with Slippery Ann Elk Viewing Area and Sun River Wild Management Area in Montana are great places to spot these creatures.
The Rocky Mountains are a great hotspot for hikers and campers because of the challenging yet beautiful terrain and the amazing opportunity to interact with the wildlife. While encountering wildlife in the Rocky Mountains, it is important to have a strong knowledge of the temperament of these animals and the necessary precautions to be taken. Not all animals are dangerous, but they can still feel easily threatened or provoked because of human presence.
Being equipped with the right kind of tools and weapons is imperative if you decide on exploring the wilderness of the Rocky Mountains. With varied wildlife comes the use of varied equipment depending on the animal in front of you. Be prepared to encounter all kinds of situations and build new experiences.